Thursday, July 23, 2015

Between two worlds

The plane ride there is filled with excitement.  Anticipation.  It's twelve more hours, then ten, then eight.  It's bearable, even with a one year-old.  Because you know in just a few more hours you'll be met with hugs and kisses, your children's hands held and your bags pulled.  You know for the next month you'll have four more hands, and you can feel yourself starting to relax.

You arrive in the car and the road looks huge, well organized.  You see billboards you can read advertising stuff you want.  Your body craves sleep, but your mind is wide awake, taking it all in.

The first night is strange.  You wake up after a few hours and can't remember where you are.  Then you remember this is your childhood home, the room you snuck into for late night sleepovers with your sister.  It's strange, but it's already hard to remember your other house, your other bed, your other life.

You wake up for good around 2am.  Your children awaken soon after.  You spend the sweet, early-morning hours with infomercials droning on in the background.  Your husband places a hot cup of coffee in your hands while little boys play excitedly on the floor below you.

The first time you leave the house you panic at least three times when you glance in the rearview mirror.  Then you remember your kids are home, with grandparents.  You take a deep breath and hold your husband's hand.

When you walk through the grocery store your eyes are wide the whole time.  You say over and over again, "You can get anything you want.  All in one place."  You grab a pack of Reese's in the check-out line.  If for no other reason than you can.

You're almost unbearably awkward with the cashier.  You forget how to make small talk and are a bit suspicious that someone you don't know could be so, incredibly friendly.  You bag your own groceries and look up in surprise when the cashier says thank you, and is staring at you, both confused and grateful.

You finally compose yourself and go to renew your husband's expired license.  You're ready for a fight.  You're ready for a long, complicated process.

It's easy.  It's fast.  And people are actually apologizing for your inconvenience.  What in the world are they sorry for? you think, but you don't really care because you've been given time.  And although you have nothing to do, time suddenly seems very important.

You stop at a coffeehouse because, again, you can.  You talk about all that is different here.  You talk about Americans... only to remember you are one.  It's a bit overwhelming.  You miss home.

A day or two later you're feeling a part of things, and you're surprised how fast you adjusted.  You're creeping out of the jet lag fog and starting the visits.  You remember that time and distance quickly fade with the people you love.

You bounce back and forth between family and friends, catching glimpses of your past life.  You both can and can't picture yourself there, and you pretend for a moment that you never left.  You imagine your life, continued.  Your mind wanders down the other road.

About halfway through you start thinking it's almost over.  You feel the weight of leaving, the heaviness of good-byes.  You spend hours on Amazon finalizing orders.

Your start the separation, one person at a time.  If you let it, it feels a lot like the first time, so you put up a shield, paste on a smile, and part with the words, "We'll see you soon."

You spend full days carefully packing five, large suitcases, a carry-on, and four small bags.  You weigh, you shuffle, you stuff.  When they magically hit 50 pounds each you smile, satisfied.  And then it hits you.  This is it.

You don't say much that last night.  There's not a lot to be said.

You busy yourself the next morning so you don't have to think.  It's easy as there's much to be done.  You put on a smile for your kids and tell them all they have to look forward to.

You check your bags at the airport, and it's suddenly time.

You keep on with the see-you-soon routine, because you don't want to cry when you still have 5 bags, 3 kids and a stroller to drag through security.

You say good-bye and wave a ridiculous amount of times.  When you're finally through you turn and wave one last time.

You walk away, but you stop shortly after to hold your oldest son as he cries, the same sobs that shook his body a week ago as he said good-bye to his other grandparents.  You try to think of something comforting to tell him, but in the end you just admit that you're sad too, and you carry on through the airport.

You order fully-loaded nachos and beer at the terminal restaurant, because you can... and you all need a little something.  You smile as you watch your family dive towards the cheesiest chips, and then you reach in quick, because they'll be gone fast.

You board the airplane and ready the Benadryl.  You learned your lesson last time.  When the baby's finally asleep you scroll through the movies. You watch brainless comedies and attempt a few hours sleep.

You land.  You wake your children and drag them off the plane.  You want to carry them, but you can't, so they stumble through two more airports, sleeping across vinyl-covered chairs as our heads bob beside them.

You finally land back home.  A bus picks you up at the door, drives straight to your house.  You marvel at how easy it feels this time.

An angel messages to tell you she's prepared your family dinner, to come by and pick it up.  You finish the hot, delicious meal just as your groceries are delivered to your door.

With full bellies your children drift off the moment they lie down, and you smile to see them in their own beds.  You're happy to have them so near.

You stumble to bed yourself.  The room spins a bit and quickly disappears.

You wake up at midnight to the sounds of a happy, wide-awake baby.  You try to make him watch Elmo, but he's not fooled.  It's time to play.

You trudge downstairs and share a snack on the couch.  You watch him and tuck this moment away, just you and him in the dark.  Baby smiles and laughter.

Two hours later he takes your hand, pulls you back up the stairs.  The two of you fall quickly back to sleep.

It's so bright, but you force open your eyes and reach for your phone.  It's 10:30, but your body won't get up.  The house is still quiet.  You remember where you are, but it doesn't quite feel real.  Home feels impossibly far away.  It's hard to remember already.

You start to wonder about the meaning of your life.  You feel, in a way, that you're floating.  Stuck between two worlds that don't quite fit together.

You grasp for your phone once more and you find these words.

"Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." (Psalm 139:7-10)

And suddenly, the other side of the ocean doesn't feel too far.  And suddenly, you know right where you are.

You tiptoe down the stairs where your husband waits.  He places a hot cup of coffee in your hands.  And another day begins.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Through the sliding doors

When he comes with me it's okay.  Doable.  Maybe even a little fun.

It's like an adventure we're on together and, as is the case with many of our adventures, there are moments of intense frustration and ones of sheer joy.

But sometimes one must adventure alone.

It seems like a treat, really.  Especially without the kids.  And so I hop in the driver's seat like a free woman, forging down the spacious roads with the wind in my hair and three empty car seats behind me.

Pulling my car easily between two, wide lines I look around at all the empty spots and wonder if it's ever been ever full.  I imagine not.

People smile at me as they step into and out of their cars, and I smile back, because that's what you do here.  When I get to the front the doors slide open smoothly before me and I walk through quickly, because walking quickly is also what you do here.

My eyes go wide almost immediately.  It's not my first time, but that doesn't seem to matter anymore.  I look around like a small child in a large, clean, well-organized candy store.

The produce feels a bit familiar, so I start there.  The apples are flawless red, each one perfectly round.  They're organized in cute wicker baskets, with hay underneath, and appear to have been plucked straight from the tree.  I browse the bananas from force of habit.  They're neither green nor brown, only a uniform, pale yellow across the whole, excessively long row.  The smell is not what I'm used to, the skins more thick and rubbery than I remember.

It's not as familiar as I hoped.  But I'm not looking for produce anyhow, so I move on.

I browse the organic section, picking up fruit leathers and smiling.  Placing them back in their designated spots.  I don't know what I want, per se, but I like to know it's all here if I want it.  In one place.  Right under my nose.

The next aisle, apparently, is water bottles.  It goes on forever, it seems.  Endless plastic bottles in all sizes, shapes and colors.  By the case, of course.

I stumble around the corner and freeze in my tracks.  I can almost hear faint angelic music in the background and I literally step back to take it all in.  I forgot so many Oreos could exist in one place.  I forgot about all the flavors.  I forgot about double stuffed and mint and peanut butter and it feels impossible to choose.

I want to try them all, but just one of each.  It seems you can't buy just one, though.  It's fifty or nothing, and so I choose nothing and pull myself away.  Also, now that they're right here in front of me, I'm not much in the mood.

The Oreos are just a small taste of the cookies and snacks, but I tunnel-vision my way to the meat.  We need ribs so I go to the butcher and tell him.  We stare at each other for a minute and I wonder if we're speaking the same language.  I think I'd feel more comfortable if we weren't.

"Over there," he says and points to a large refrigerated case behind me.

"Those are the fresh ribs?"  I ask and he smiles and assures me, yes, those are the fresh ones.

I find them rather quickly and run my hands over the plastic packaging.  They're clearly frozen.  But the bag states, Previously Frozen, which I guess counts as fresh, and is somehow different than the currently frozen meat just one case over.

At this point someone brushes my shoulder and I realize I am literally spinning in circles.  All I want is a fresh rack of ribs, but I walk away instead with nothing.  I'm feeling overwhelmed, so I make my way back through the frozen section, because what can be overwhelming about ice cream?


Everything is overwhelming about ice cream.  The flavors are overwhelming.  The varieties are overwhelming.  The sheer number is overwhelming.  I think I might like an ice cream bar, since I'm out without the kids and all, but it seems you can't get less than ten and I don't want ten ice cream bars.  I want one freaking ice cream bar.

In the middle of the freezer section is a rack of freezer bags.  I think I need all of them.  I think I've never seen anything more beautiful than those freezer bags.  But again I can't pick, so I walk away.

I need to focus.  I need to remember what it is I came for.

Ah!  Finally!  Baking needs.  I scan the aisle and find it.  It's not what I thought it was.  It's certainly not what I buy in Hungary.  But it's there in plain English, so I pick it up and beeline to the checkout.

Uncle Sam is in the checkout before me.  Literally.  Hat and everything.  I'm not sure why, but it feels like a fitting end to this experience.  

 When I finally make it to the car I shut the door tight and take a deep breath.

I look at the bag in my hand and laugh.

Mission accomplished.